LIHU‘E — Starting in May, Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative will begin its 18-month effort to replace its existing electric meters with smart meters.
The co-op’s smart meter rollout is part of an $11 million infrastructure project that, upon completion, will have the ability to transmit real-time supply-and-demand data wirelessly to the utility from 33,000 homes and businesses across an island-wide mesh network of smart meters and smart grids.
KIUC will mail a notification letter to account holders at least a couple of weeks prior to installation, a KIUC news release states. No action is required by account holders to have a new meter installed.
Property owners and renters who do not have a KIUC account will not receive an installation notice and will not have an option to defer installation, KIUC spokeswoman Maile Moriguchi said in an email.
“KIUC has an agreement with the account holder/member to provide electrical service,” Moriguchi said. “KIUC will notify the account holder of the installation.”
The ratepayer does not need to be present when the meter is installed, the release states, but the installer will knock on the door or otherwise attempt to notify those on the property prior to the meter change.
Power will be disrupted momentarily and electronic devices may have to be reset after installation is complete.
For those with special circumstances, such as medical equipment or vital electronic equipment that make it necessary for the member to be notified in advance of a power interruption, the co-op advises calling KIUC.
If installation is successfully completed, the installer will leave a green door hanger. If the meter could not be installed, a red door hanger will be left behind providing an explanation and a contact number.
Smart meter benefits
The smart meters will assist KIUC in upgrading Kaua‘i’s electric infrastructure and will provide Kaua‘i residents and businesses with potential cost savings and even greater levels of service reliability and efficiency, according to the release.
KIUC said benefits include: possible ratepayer savings through increased member knowledge of their energy use, improved outage response time, improved power quality and increased efficiency and cost savings through the elimination of meter-reader visits.
Smart meter concerns
The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai‘i, a Constitutional rights protection group, contends that while smart meters may pose significant benefits, KIUC members should not have to give up their right to privacy in order to obtain them.
“ACLU wants to ensure that privacy, guaranteed by the Constitution, is protected before new technologies are rolled out,” Vanessa Chong, executive director of ACLU of Hawai‘i, told The Garden Island regarding a letter of concern the organization sent to co-op CEO David Bissell in December.
“Privacy advocates, including the ACLU, are concerned about the smart meters’ capacity to provide extremely detailed information about how and what people in the home are doing with electricity,” Chong said.
On March 27, KIUC’s board of directors voted unanimously to amend its policy on how it uses customer information to include data collected by advanced metering infrastructure.
The policy states that information contained within a member’s file, whether in electric form or otherwise, and where the source of data can be attributed to an individual member, is for legitimate KIUC internal use and is confidential.
After reviewing KIUC’s new policy amendment, Chong said, “The ACLU remains concerned about the privacy of Kaua‘i member-user information. ACLU encourages the community to view these steps by KIUC as a beginning and not the end of a duty to protect its members’ privacy and to create strict privacy controls in response to user concerns.”
Deferral of installation
The co-op is offering to defer installation for co-op members who do not want a smart meter installed.
“It is important for members to fill out the KIUC deferred installation form to confirm that the deferral is being made by the account holder and to be certain that the account holder is aware of the benefits they will not be receiving by making this deferral,” Moriguchi said.
Members who would like to be placed on the deferred installation list should call KIUC at 246-4300 to obtain a Deferred Installation Request Form.
To date, the co-op has not offered an opt-out program. It has said it will “indefinitely defer” installation upon customer request until board directors decide whether the utility will offer such an option. According to the ACLU, customers should be allowed to decide whether they wish to have a smart meter installed and that customer consent should be renewed every two years.
Bissell’s letter of response states that no consent is required.
“KIUC’s (sole) franchise as an electric provider for Kaua‘i gives KIUC the right to install metering equipment at a customer’s premises,” he said. “If the customer refuses to allow such installation, KIUC has no obligation to serve that particular premise. As a result, the concept of such consent having to be renewed every two years is not appropriate.”
If a customer requests that a previously installed smart meter be removed and another type of equipment installed, KIUC has no obligation to do so, and “if the customer insists, KIUC is entitled to decline to serve those premises,” Bissell said in the letter.
“No KIUC customer is entitled to decide to ‘opt in’ to the KIUC smart meter grid, rather KIUC is entitled to install such meters or refuse to serve the premises,” he said.
KIUC member Adam Asquith filed a suit against the co-op in U.S. District Court on March 17. It argues KIUC’s plan to install the meters violates constitutional protections against abuse of government authority, unreasonable searches and seizures. He is requesting an injunction on the program rollout until KIUC adopts an “opt-in” policy. He said the utility should not charge members to opt-out.
If the co-op chooses to provide an opt-out program, representatives have said that it would likely charge a fee to cover the cost of dispatching a meter reader.
The ACLU said the utility should not charge extra fees if a customer decides not to have a smart meter.
“The savings the customer foregoes because of his/her decision is already a penalty for nonparticipation,” states the ACLU letter, signed by staff attorney Laurie Temple. “Extra fees could, because of the classes of people who might decline to opt in, lead to unintentional, and yet still illegal, discrimination.”
New customer fees must be approved by the Public Utilities Commission.
Hawai‘i PUC Chairwoman Mina Morita earlier this month told The Garden Island that KIUC has yet to file a request with the PUC to charge customers a smart meter opt-out fee.
California’s PUC recently approved PG&E’s request to charge its residential customers an initial fee of $75 to opt out of its smart meter rollout, and a recurring monthly fee of $10.
• Vanessa Van Voorhis, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681, ext. 251, or by emailing email@example.com.